Gloomy cancer situation in Malawi
19,000 cases registered every year
Malawi registers more than 19,000 cancer cases every year, with the survival rate standing at nine months, the Ministry of Health has disclosed.
This means that most of the patients diagnosed with the disease, in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue, die within nine months of the diagnosis.
As the country joined the rest of the world in commemorating World Cancer Day on Saturday, Secretary for Health Charles Mwansambo said that there are other causes of the condition apart from genetic predisposition.
Mwansambo cited tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, unhealthy diet, physical inability and air pollution as some of the modifiable risk factors for most cancers and non-communicable diseases.
“In addition, approximately 13 percent of the cancers diagnosed globally are attributed to carcinogenic infections including Human Immunodeficiency Virus, Helicobacter pylori, human papilloma virus, hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus and Epstein-barr virus,” Mwansambo said in a statement.
He said the ministry has since intensified preventive measures such as vaccination against human papilloma virus among girls aged nine years, hepatitis vaccine provision, cervical and breast cancer screening, male circumcision and improved access to antiretroviral therapy.
“Treatment and follow-up care for patients with cancer is also continuously being reviewed to ensure [that] human resource, infrastructure, drugs and supplies keep on improving,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) has said the commemoration should be used to remind people that several types of cancer such as prostate, cervical and esophagus can kill.
Mhen Executive Director George Jobe has also called on stakeholders to raise awareness on all types of cancer.
“We have noted that there is a lot of talk about cervical cancer but the other types of cancer are least talked about, yet people are dying from those cancers too,” Jobe said.
He has also asked authorities to fast-track the construction of the National Cancer Centre in Lilongwe, indicating that not every patient can manage to travel outside the country for treatment.
The Ministry of Health has since encouraged individuals, families community members, civil societies, government departments and other stakeholders to make new commitments in fighting cancer.
Worldwide, more than 19 million new cancer cases are recorded every year, with deaths standing at 10 million in a year. Most deaths are in low-income and medium-income countries such as Malawi.
According to the World Health Organisation, lung, prostate, stomach and liver cancer are among the common cancers in men while breast, lung and cervical cancer are common among women.
The 2023 World Cancer Day commemorations were held under the theme ‘Close the Care Gap’.
The day falls on February 4 to raise awareness on cancer and encourage prevention, detection and treatment.
It is not clear when construction of the National Cancer Centre will fully be completed so that Malawians can start using the facility.
But when President Lazarus Chakwera arrived in Malawi from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on February 7 2022 after attending a two-day African Union summit, he said he took advantage of the event to lobby for support for the completion of the centre.
“We had side meetings talking about our cancer centre with the International Atomic Agency and it will be a great thing when they come to help us complete this project,” Chakwera said.
Mathews Kasanda is a journalist who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from University of Malawi (The Polytechnic).
In 2015, Media Institute of Southern Africa awarded him the Best Print Media Education Journalist of the Year accolade.
He joined Times Group Newsroom in September 2019.